Sleep

A recent survey found that more people are sleeping less than six hours a night, and sleep difficulties visit seventy-five percent of us at least a few nights per week.

A short-lived bout of insomnia is generally nothing to worry about. The biggest concern is chronic sleep loss, which can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure and a decrease in the immune system’s power.

While more research is needed to explore the links between chronic sleep loss and health, it’s safe to say that sleep is too important to compromise on.

The daytime sleepiness that follows can leave you feeling lousy and sap your productivity, and may even harm your health.

Now, a small study suggests that mindfulness meditation; a mind calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment can really help.

The study, which appears in a medical journal, included 49 middle-aged and older adults who had trouble sleeping. Half completed a mindfulness awareness program that taught them meditation and other exercises designed to help them focus on “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions.” The other half completed a sleep education class that taught them ways to improve their sleep habits.

Both groups met six times, once a week for two hours. Compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of the six sessions.

The findings came as no surprise to Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.

“Mindfulness meditation is just one of a smorgasbord of techniques that evoke the relaxation response,” says Dr. Benson.

One of the many sound techniques to improve your sleep patterns is the relaxation response, a term coined in the 1970s. It is a deep physiological shift in the body that’s the opposite of the stress response. The relaxation response can help ease many stress-related ailments, including depression, pain, and high blood pressure.

For many people, sleep disorders are closely tied to stress.

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.

It helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response, using whatever technique feels right to you.

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